Electric (vehicle) dreams: the charge ahead  

Posted by Big Gav in

The weekend SMH had a prominent (and long) article on electric vehicles - Electric dreams: the charge ahead.

A social researcher, Mark McCrindle, of McCrindle Research, says his studies have shown while most people are concerned about the environment, they are not prepared to pay more to make a difference.

A recent survey found 96 per cent of respondents believed people have played some part in climate change but only 28 per cent directly intend to cut their carbon emissions.

That's a view backed up by Evan Thornley, the chief executive officer of BetterPlace Australia, who is trying to orchestrate a network of recharging points. He believes the electric car revolution is unstoppable but not for environmental concerns.

''The fundamental reason for that is simple,'' Thornley says. ''The cost of batteries is coming down and the cost of petrol is going up. That creates a pretty fundamental inevitability of driving moving from petrol to electric.

''It is a massive business opportunity … you've got $30 billion worth of petrol being sold to customers that hate the product. They love their car, they hate their petrol.''

BetterPlace has announced plans to begin a national network of charging points in Canberra next year, followed by a targeted introduction in Sydney and Melbourne in 2013, covering the other capitals in 2014 and a highway network in 2015.

Other companies including ChargePoint Australia are also looking to create a recharging network to cater for the growing EV fleet.

In addition to a public network - set up within car parks - companies will offer EV drivers in-house recharging points. Their systems will be able to take advantage of off-peak charging and even feed power back into the grid at peak times, giving EV drivers another financial benefit.

That potential financial boost will be helpful to consumers and car companies because the federal government has shown little interest in encouraging motorists into electric cars - despite propping up the local manufacturers with millions in funding.

While it is pushing ahead with its planned carbon tax the government has dropped the Green Car Innovation Fund and the proposed ''cash-for-clunkers'' scheme.

This is in contrast to other nations, where governments are offering a variety of incentives to get motorists to ditch petrol power for electric cars. Tax credits to reduce the purchase price, allowing EV drivers to use transit lanes, special EV parking spaces and free public charging infrastructure have all been used to make EVs more appealing to new car buyers. The European Union has even floated the idea of banning all petrol and diesel cars from city centres by 2050.

A spokeswoman for Senator Kim Carr, the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, acknowledged the incentives by other countries but questioned the true environmental value of electric cars.

''Electric vehicles are often referred to as a 'zero emissions technology', the uptake of which would reduce carbon emissions,'' the spokeswoman says. ''However, potential emissions reductions in Australia need to be viewed with caution because the carbon emissions intensity of Australia's electricity production is significantly higher than the world average. Thus a subsidy for electric vehicles in Australia may have limited benefits in terms of reducing emissions.''

The Greens' deputy leader, Senator Christine Milne, wants to see the government do more to get electric cars onto roads before we fall behind the rest of the world.

''Government also has a major role to play in driving renewable energy to support the best possible electric cars and facilitate their roll-out to the broadest possible market as fast as possible,'' Milne says. ''China has set an aggressive goal for expanding its electric car market and Australia is once again at risk of falling way behind.''

Milne also criticised the government's on-going support of the local manufacturing industry at the expense of electric vehicles.

The limited amount of financial support the government has offered has been targeted at local manufacturing jobs. It has invested less than $10 million on electric vehicle projects while handing over hundreds of millions to Holden, Ford and Toyota under the Green Car Innovation Fund for petrol-powered cars.

''Investment in truly innovative car manufacturing in Australia would also see a shift towards electric cars, instead of paying companies to make slightly less inefficient six-cylinder petrol cars,'' she says.

One car company executive revealed that during a meeting with the government it indicated it was only interested in supporting an electric car if it was made locally. Such a scenario seems some way off, even though Holden admits its new production line in South Australia has been ''future-proofed'' to build electric cars.

Before it becomes viable for a manufacturer to build an electric vehicle locally there needs to be more consumer demand, and that may not come for at least another decade. That's when today's tech-savvy youth of Generations Y and Z become major players in the new car market.

While baby boomers and Gen X might hesitate to move away from traditional petrol and diesel-powered vehicles, the younger generations are hungry to embrace technology.

''Over the next decade they'll be the ones getting their licences and reaching the stage in life where they buy a new car,'' McCrindle says. ''So this is the emerging market. This is a generation of early adopters of new technology. They want the latest technology and that extends to cars.''

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